Today marks the beginning of National Infertility Awareness Week. NIAW was established with the purpose of bringing awareness to the significant lack of access to fertility services and support that millions of women and men endure every year. In the US alone, 7.3 million people are facing infertility.
For many, navigating infertility is daunting and filled with uncertainty. Women facing infertility need to make decisions that affect them socially, emotionally and financially with very little personalized information to guide them. When the stakes are so high, how do we know that we are making the best choices for ourselves and getting the best advice?
Helping Women Understand Their Odds Anywhere
Univfy uses AI to help women understand what their fertility odds are , not just in a particular clinic, but anywhere. Their technology aggregates the collective data and uses AI to improve the patients’ experience: Getting women to the best treatment path faster and with less cost or financial risk, while improving the efficiency of the IVF practices.
Mylene Yao, cofounder and CEO of Univfy shares: “Early on in my career as an OB/GYN, specializing in infertility, I met many women who were struggling to learn that they and their partners could not conceive on their own. They asked very reasonable questions: What’s causing it? What are my chances of having a baby with IVF?” For a physician, it is difficult to give accurate numbers to help women make informed choices and know what best in their specific case.
While being a Stanford resident, Dr. Yao teamed up with Professor Wing Wong, a world-renowned biostatistician and expert in machine learning and Bayesian statistics. In their research, using machine learning, they found that 60-80% of patients had higher chances of success with IVF than traditionally expected based on age. We had the revelation that age accounted for just 50% of the IVF success prediction.
“My cofounder and I felt compelled to bring a technology to market to make IVF more affordable and successful”, says Yao. Accurate and personalized predictions of IVF success empower women and their doctors better plan for a course of treatment, rather than putting all their hopes and resources on a single IVF cycle.
Making Fertility Financially (And Emotionally) Viable
More importantly, Dr. Yao realized that their IVF success prediction models can be used to build financial programs to minimize patients’ financial risk of pursuing IVF. Univfy combines AI and fintech to improve the patients’ experience and to expand IVF success and affordability. By applying machine learning, the Univfy PreIVF Report gives a patient her personalized probability of IVF success validated against her own health profile and her provider’s data. Univfy can qualify 80% of IVF patients for a refund program, enabling providers to guarantee a refund in the unfortunate circumstance that they don’t have a baby with treatment.
Univfy also addresses the emotional needs of fertility service consumers, providing clinical counseling through personalized reports that are offered by providers to patients free of charge. “Our ultimate goal is to help more fertility patients successfully use IVF and be able to afford the necessary IVF cycles (if needed) to maximize each person’s take-home-baby rate”, says Dr. Yao.
The Business Of Fertility
When looking at the broad fertility space, we can see tremendous traction among investors . In a matter of a few weeks we have seen significant fundraising events, with Extend Fertility raising 15M, Kindbody another $ 15M, and Carrot Fertility raising $ 11.5M to help employers offer better fertility support, among others. “That is fantastic because the fertility space is an area of significant growth opportunity and investment is critical to democratizing access to fertility care”, says Yao.
More women are speaking openly about their struggles with infertility and seeking to better understand their bodies in order to take control of their own health and fertility. “This has helped create greater demand”, Yao says, and adds that there is a critical force behind democratizing fertility health that gets little attribution in the media: For over three decades, starting with the first IVF-conceived baby (and many failed attempts that preceded it), doctors and scientists have used science, innovation and perseverance to push the frontiers of reproductive health — often taking the entrepreneurial spirit to risk their own personal earnings to establish breakthroughs in IVF.
With easy access to commercial-grade, quality-tested “consumables” and supportive services such as embryo genetic testing, IVF has become more available, scalable and can be delivered with greater success. As more established IVF centers demonstrate financial success, investments to further scale and innovate fertility services are dramatically de-risked. Investors are great listeners listeners with many criteria for de-risking investments. They can hear the IVF ecosystem calling out to them now, says Yao.
The Future Is Access For All
Yao wants to create a future where women, men and couples – regardless of their marital status, gender or sexual orientation — can access reproductive health care services as needed to meet their very human desire and need to have a family. AI as an enabler is already bringing a positive impact on patients’ trust in their physicians, transparency, personalization of care, affordability and, as more live birth data becomes available, treatment success rates will also be demonstrated.
We are at a tipping point, where achievements from decades of clinical, scientific and entrepreneurial efforts can be dramatically enhanced by technology to meet the needs and demands of a more assertive millennial generation that is empowered by social media and the #MeToo movement.
Author’s Note: In this article, we limit the discussion of the fertility space to fertility treatment (in particular) for women, their partners and LGBTQ community who need medical care in order to have a family. The broader reproductive health space including ovulation apps, egg freezing and other reproductive services will be addressed in subsequent pieces.